04 May 2014

The Catechesis of the Cross of Christ

They are grown men, disciples of Jesus and associates of the Apostles; evidently catechized, for they know the facts of His Life, His Cross and Passion, and even the report of His Resurrection from the dead.  They give a fair and accurate summary of the Gospel to this point, a decent early Creed, as it were.  But they have given up hope.  They have failed to believe the Holy Scriptures and the Word concerning Jesus of Nazareth.  They do not comprehend what they already know.  Instead, they are simply foolish and sad.

So it is for you, as well.  Left to your own intelligence and ingenuity, with all the information you posses, you still don’t know where Jesus is; nor can you find Him or figure Him out on your own.  You’ve read the Book and seen the Movie, but you seem to have lost the plot, and you’re not at all sure of the ending, whether the story is actually over, or if the sequel is just getting started.

Everyone deals with it differently.  We heard that last week, too, didn’t we, with Thomas?  Some hide themselves away, and others go wandering.  You’ve got your own personality; which isn’t the answer, either, no more than academic achievement, artistic ability, or athletic accomplishment.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re an introvert or extrovert.  You won’t “get” Jesus on your own.

Maybe you’re restless and frantic, always searching for some answers to your endless questions.  Or, maybe you’re at a standstill, stuck with what you’ve got and where you’re at, and paralyzed by a sadness that you just can’t shake.  Either way — whether you presume to know where you’re going, or you know yourself to be lost and confused — your sinful heart and stubborn head are thick and slow, foolish and hard; and your eyes are unable to perceive or recognize the Truth.

Even the Holy Scriptures would be and remain a closed book to you, an indecipherable mystery, if not for the preaching of the Gospel of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus.  And, as it is, until He opens up those sacred Scriptures to you — Him you cannot see; and His Body you can’t find.

But now, thanks be to God, your dear Lord Jesus does not leave you alone or on your own.

He provides companions for your journey, to begin with; who may be just as lost and foolish, as confused and sad as you are, but who engage you in the conversation of Christ Jesus.  And do not underestimate the power of sharing those stories of Jesus — of arguing, debating, rehearsing, and reveling in those things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, even when they seem so hard and strange.  Already in the discussing of those things — His mighty Word and deeds, His Cross and Passion, and His Resurrection from the dead — before you are able to comprehend or believe any of it — He has drawn near and joined Himself to you, to share the journey with you, with those words.

And though you may suppose yourself to know better, and to be headed home by some familiar well-worn path, it is the same Lord Jesus Christ who takes you and your companions and your conversation into hand, to lead you and to guide you to the Place that He has prepared for you.

Then again, you might wonder, in light of this Holy Gospel, is it catechesis or “cat-and-mouse” that Jesus engages with you?  After all, He seems a bit sneaky and kind of tricky in some of His words and actions on the road to Emmaus.  So much so, now as then, that you don’t even realize what’s going on, until, in retrospect, you recognize what He is doing.

The fact of the matter is, that He opens the Scriptures to you by the Way of the Cross.

It’s not that He’s being deliberately “mysterious,” or trying to be difficult, as though to make fun of you, to tease you or trick you.  But the Mystery of His Cross as the Way of divine Glory cannot be learned or understood, except by crucifying you and raising you up with Christ Jesus Himself.

Not by intelligence or information, but solely by His Cross and Resurrection, by repentance and faith in His forgiveness of your sins, do you enter the Kingdom of God with Him.

Thus, you also enter into His Glory through suffering.

You suffer disappointment, hurt, and loss, the shattering of your hopes and aspirations, the death of your false gods.  You are confronted with your own foolishness and failings; with the tragedy of your faithless unbelief, and the deadly consequences of your sin; with the frail mortality of your fallen flesh; and with the fact that you cannot rescue or redeem yourself from death and the grave.

Then, when you have been cut to the quick, and your hard heart and thick head have been pierced by the condemnation of your sin and the conviction of death — when your self-chosen journey has been halted, and you’ve been stopped in your sad tracks — the Lord Jesus raises you up and leads you forward in His Resurrection from the dead, on His journey back to God the Father in heaven.

He brings you to the portal that leads to bliss untold.  But the Way into such grace and glory of God in Christ is still not by sight, but by faith in His Word of the Cross.

That is why He often seems to be going farther, to be moving on without you, to be leaving you behind; when He acts like He’s outta here, so it feels like you’re back to being on your own again.

This, too, is the Cross, which puts your pride and your self to death, and teaches you to pray, to call upon the Name of the Lord, to cling to Him by faith, and to open up your heart and home to Him.

Even such invitations are not your own work, but His work in you.

Often, you don’t even know what you’re really asking, when you ask Him in to stay with you, because you’re simply feeling your way forward, by faith in His Word, living under the Cross, and loving your neighbor on the Way, as the Lord your God has taught you by His love for you.

It is another Mystery of the Cross, and of faith in the Cross, that your fumbling efforts, your choices and decisions in the waning light of day, in the darkness on the edge of town, and even your feeble cries for help from out of the depths, are all taken up into the mercies of Christ and turned into the working out of His own gracious purposes for you and for your neighbors.

Thus, when you suppose that you have invited Him to be your guest, that you will serve and care for Him — as you should so do for one another, to live as brothers and sisters in the unity of Christ and the harmony of His Love — suddenly you find that He is your Host; that you are His guest, living in His House and reclining at His Table; and that He is here serving you, by His grace, with the rich fruits of His own Cross and Passion.

Here, then, is where you see Him: in His Breaking of the Bread.  Here is where His Body is found, no longer dead and buried, but crucified and risen, living and life-giving.  The mysterious Stranger vanishes from sight, but He is not gone.  He is recognized and known, received with thanksgiving, and loved, as He loves you, in the Holy Communion of His Body and His Blood.

Here, therefore, is where your sadness vanishes, and the joy of the Cross is realized.

For this Jesus who was crucified, He is the Redeemer of Israel, whom God the Father has raised from the dead and made both Lord and Christ.

He has redeemed you, also, from sin and death, and from the futile path and patterns of life that you inherited from your mortal parents; not with perishable coins or commodities, but with His own holy and precious Blood, by His innocent suffering and death upon the Cross.

It is the Body and Blood of this Lamb of God which are given and poured out for you here at His Table in His House: For you and for the many, for the forgiveness of all your sins, for eternal life and everlasting salvation with Him, as a member of His Body.

By these means, you enter into His Glory by the Way of His Cross.

But do take note, disciples of Emmaus, that recognizing and receiving the crucified and risen Lord Jesus, here at His Altar, does not result in holing up inside, circling the wagons around you, and hiding yourself away from the world within this house and home.

No, although the day is far spent and evening is at hand, it is yet this very Hour that you are raised up and returned to the doctrine and fellowship of the Holy Apostles, to the Holy Communion of all saints, to the true Jerusalem of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

Which is to say, that, while it is still day, even at this late hour, until that night comes when no one can work, you seek out your fellow Christians and serve them, as you can, with your words and deeds of peace and joy, of faith, hope, and love — as they also serve you, as companions on the Way, with their mutual confession and the ongoing conversation of Christ Jesus.

As you have communion with one another in the one Body of Christ, in the New Testament of His Blood, so also share that fellowship in your life together.  For the Lord your God has called you to Himself, even from far away, you and your children, to find a new life, a new home and family, with one God and Father in Christ Jesus.

You are baptized into Him, anointed and filled by His Holy Spirit.  So are you one Body in Him, and you are the Body of Christ for one another.  As you see Him and receive Him in the Breaking of the Bread, so do you see and receive Him in each other, by His grace, in mercy and in peace.

Lift up your head and rejoice, dear friends of God, beloved of the Lord!  For He is here with you, and you are with Him on the Way; not only to and from Emmaus, but unto the Resurrection of the Body and the Life everlasting in the midst of His Jerusalem: on earth even now, as it is in heaven.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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